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Chef Specials interview | Ralph Hagen
It can sometimes be quite difficult to snare a top chocolatier for a chat. The distance (Maastricht - Amsterdam) doesn't make it any easier either. But Ralph Hagen, one of Holland's top chocolatiers we might say, just makes time for this. And then the conversation for this Chef Special with the Maastricht native flows naturally.
'FROM ARCHITECTURE TO CHOCOLATE'
Ralph Hagen himself comes from the world of architecture, but a passion for good food was always there. His chocolate creations can even be found in Dubai. But fortunately, for now, his home base is just Maastricht.
How did you get into the world of chocolate?
During my student days, I preferred to spend my last money on a good piece of meat or a fine wine, rather than on beer in the pub. A real gourmet, that's what I am. Out of interest, I took a course on chocolate eight years ago. After that, the ball quickly started rolling. For five years now I have been running the Ralph Hagen Chocolatier shop. Recently we opened Darq. With it we want to create a great coffee and chocolate experience for customers. My brother-in-law has been involved for years and now runs the business.
How did you develop into a chocolatier?
I went on to train as a chocolatier, gave workshops and started coming up with more and more recipes. I gave a lot of thought to my house style. It had to be luxurious and exclusive. When you are just starting out as a chocolatier, you have no idea what chocolate to use. You choose accessible and affordable couvertures, like Callebaut or Valhrona. But then you start to learn and at a certain point you have to make a choice: either you keep using bulk chocolate, or you go for the good stuff.
"When you are just starting out as a chocolatier, you have no idea what chocolate to use."
But you also have to be able to sell it to your customers. That's why we tell our customers the story. Only that way do they understand why they are paying â'¬3.90 for a pastry and not â'¬2.- like at the bakery around the corner. Chocolate also needs a story. I do feel that customers increasingly value the story behind the chocolate.
How do you know if you have good couverture in your hand?
You get trained in it. Just like a wine taster trains his taste buds by tasting a lot, it's the same with chocolate. You learn to recognise and distinguish between flavours. You also notice by the texture if the chocolate is good. Good chocolate doesn't taste bitter, not even with a high percentage. We only work with chocolate without additives, from a single origin or single estate, so you can recognise flavours like tobacco. Delicious. My favourite is still the Lam Dong from Marou.
What appeals to you about Chocolatemakers?
Besides the quality, it is certainly the story. The close contact that Rodney and Enver have with the farmers and the flavours of the cocoa that they bring out well. We work mainly with dark chocolate. Like the Awajun and the Cru Virunga of the Chocolatemakers. These chocolates are in the same price range as Valhrona, but their quality is way above that. My favourite from Chocolatemakers is definitely the Awajun. Powerful flavours of red fruit, coffee and nuts, it lends itself wonderfully to pronounced chocolates. I really like the Virunga pure as a basic couverture. You can use it for everything!
I also like to work with local, Dutch companies. We don't have our packaging made in China either, even though it is a lot cheaper. That is a choice. What really appeals to me is that Chocolatemakers also allows you to have your own recipe of couverture made.
You started only 5 years ago and are already so successful. What can we expect in the future?
I want to keep developing myself, keep improving recipes, keep looking for unique and beautiful products. We have also developed a Chocolate and Coffee experience in Maastricht, which we would like to continue as a franchise. There is already interest!
We are confident that it will be a successful 2017 for chocolatier Ralph Hagen. We will continue to follow him and look forward to the developments of the Chocolate and Coffee experience...